What’s True in Searching for Self?

August 20, 2023

What’s True in Searching for Self?

May 29, 2023

As I enter Level 6 in the Game of Life, I’m looking back and taking stock of my life journey and thinking about what has shaped me, who I am, what I have done, and what I am doing to shape my life.

While I suppose I’m not alone in this type of reflection, to be honest, it’s been an eye-opening, somewhat confusing, mind-bending process where I begin not to trust what I think I remember.

The two questions I struggle with most in this meager attempt at reckoning are: What have I done with my decades on this planet? And who am I because of that?

There are lightbulb and Kodak moments that we’re supposed to remember with crystal clarity. The day I met my spouse. Our first date. Our wedding day. The birth of our children. But I can’t help to think that much of what I remember, or think I remember, isn’t actually what happened. At least not the way I remember it.

Here, I land on a nagging, seemingly unanswerable question, what is true? What is true about my past, and what is true about me? And who the heck am I? A clear sense of self-identity becomes a slippery slope with all these fuzzy-edged stories of my past.

And then my mind wonders, “What have I accomplished?” It’s a question I have silently asked myself too often. A friend reminded me of Antonio Machado’s poem passage: “What have you done with this garden that was entrusted to you?” It’s the “done with” that trips me up.

For years, when I was amassing what I thought was a sense of Self through accomplishments and self-worth through trying to become somebody, when beneath it all along, somebody was doing all the real somebody searching. (Who’s in charge here, anyway? I have a bone to pick with them.)

I think a lot these days about what it means to be a human artist. For now, it’s the term I use that best describes what I’ve been doing to shape a life that’s truly mine to shape. And, maybe human artistry is the way we’re all making a life in our unique way. Human artistry is part searching for our true Self, part making a true and whole life through that Self.

Human artistry isn’t to be a painter, poet, or pianist, but it can include that. The way of human artistry is paved with and by the soul — your soul, my soul, and all of our souls — earnestly and patiently working its way through the cracks in the stubborn veneer of the masks we wear. It’s slowly encouraging us to dismantle the masks so the true Self can shine through and live outward. This human artistry isn’t about making artifacts, but rather a life, on our own terms, of our own making.

So, when I get down to it, human artistry is about the artist’s, the human artist’s, personal search and struggle. And whenever I get away from this essential knowing, I go adrift. I lose “the thread” William Stafford referred to in “The Way It Is.” I feel fake, veneer, and a phony to even myself. The most critical thing is to tell the truth, and live that truth, even if it’s a work of art, especially if it’s a life’s work of art. Even though knowing or telling the truth is never possible to get entirely right. You can never tell the full or whole truth, but you can try. And, in this, is the life art project; it’s about the attempt.

From surfing to creating artwork to beekeeping, Steven Morris is an ever-curious brand and culture-building expert, author of "The Beautiful Business," and seeker who's served 3,000+ business leaders at more than 250 companies — discover more at: https://matterco.co/

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